MinecraftEDU & SimCityEDU: Blazing Trails for Interdisciplinary Learning

School-specific versions of two popular video games recently debuted: MinecraftEDU and SimCityEDU. These games require students to apply knowledge in the context of a virtual world, fostering an interdisciplinary learning experience that integrates siloed concepts. MinecraftEDU and SimCityEDU call for skills that transcend curricular boundaries and thus better replicate the real-world intellectual challenges that students will face. Read on to learn how other educators are currently using these games in their classrooms and how you can, too.


MinecraftEDU: It’s Not Just for Computer Science Anymore


Image via Flickr by kjarrett

Image via Flickr by kjarrett

The original Minecraft let players construct 3-D worlds out of textured cubes. Before MinecraftEDU, Minecraft’s educational applications were limited to teaching computer science, physics, and math. In 2012, two teachers started offering discounted educator licenses to Minecraft. MinecraftEDU now features a plug-in that enables educators to customize the software according to their curriculum. More than 4,500 schools in 40 countries use the school-ready version to teach every subject from history to art.


MinecraftEDU offers in-depth tutorials for students, workshops and training for teachers, and endless customization possibilities for almost any curriculum.


Unless they prioritize fun, teachers risk turning students off by “schoolifying” the game, as Graphite points out.

How You Use It

Teachers have control over the virtual map that students see upon starting the game. MinecraftEDU allows educators to integrate content into the map and create lessons and assignments. For teachers who don’t want to reinvent the wheel, the game also offers a vast library of pre-made worlds and lessons. The worlds and lessons teach everything from finding the perimeter of an area to identifying a dinosaur from an unearthed fossil.

Teachers can further customize the game with differentiated instruction. For example, teachers can set the items and abilities that each player has and define player permissions to control access to buildings or areas.

MinecraftEDU’s Classroom Applications

The educational community is abuzz with ideas on how to use MinecraftEDU in the classroom. From an Edutopia article, I got the idea to use the game’s pre-made replica of the Globe Theatre to allow students to explore it in 3-D. I teach English, so the thought of bringing Shakespeare’s stomping grounds to life thrilled me. My students spent an entire class period identifying various architectural aspects of the theater and taking notes for a presentation.

Another application that I appreciated was having students construct a visual representation of something that they read. They might replicate the setting of a novel or specific scenes therein, for example. These visual representations can also help students make predictions of events to come.

Cross-Disciplinary Critical Thinking With SimCityEDU Pollution Challenge!


Image via Glasslabgames.org

Developed in 2012, SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge! is the academic version of the addictive, original game. According to its creator, SimCityEDU can help “leverage digital games as powerful, data-rich learning and formative assessment environments.” The game has six missions, all of which pertain to energy-management and environmental issues. While SimCityEDU is unquestionably interdisciplinary in its approach, teachers are more limited in the disciplines that they can integrate than with MinecraftEDU. As edshelf notes in its review, SimCityEDU is primarily intended for teachers who want to “drive student interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects.”


Unparalleled support and compelling visual design set SimCityEDU apart. Map-style gameplay engages students and holds their attention with unique missions.


As edSurge points out, the game fails to give teachers useful data on what and how their students are learning from it. Applications are constrained mostly to science and technology.

How You Use It

Within each mission, users complete two activities: modifying an existing city to achieve an objective and creating a cause-and-effect concept map to show how those modifications influence outcomes. For example, the first mission asks users to arrange the city’s bus stops so students can get to school. More advanced missions require users to identify ways of lowering pollution, such as closing down a coal factory, while still meeting the city’s energy needs.

SimCityEDU’s Classroom Applications

SimCityEDU requires very little effort from teachers as it comes with ready-made lessons for each mission. These lessons tie into Common Core standards, including citing textual support for assertions, human impacts on earth systems, and systems thinking. Teachers can take the interdisciplinary approach even further, as Graphite notes, by assigning “self-reflective writing” that assesses how students solved problems presented by the game.

Using MinecraftEDU and SimCityEDU in Your Classroom

Image via Flickr by kjarrett

Image via Flickr by kjarrett

Using games like MinecraftEDU and SimCityEDU in your classroom is a fun way to promote interdisciplinary learning, about which the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has said the following: “Educational experiences are more authentic and of greater value to students when the curricula reflect real life, which is multi-faceted — rather than being compartmentalized into neat subject-matter packages.” Each game has applications that are uniquely its own, so I’ve divided my suggestions by title.

Here are a few ideas for teaching with MinecraftEDU:

  • History/Geography: Use the “Wonderful World of Humanities” map to have students explore ancient history and geography in a world filled with videos, text, quests, and factoids.
  • Literature/Art/Music: Ask students to design the homes of the Greek gods whom they’re studying, decorate them with relevant items, and compose music representative of each god.
  • Geometry: Create a world and assign teams to calculate the area, volume, angles, etc. of certain structures or regions.
  • English Language: By downloading Minecraft language packs, you can have students explore worlds that translate the names of items, buildings, and areas into the language of choice.

To use SimCityEDU in your classroom, try the following:

  • Government/Writing: Have students role-play as the mayor of the city and decide which public works project that they should build first and why. Students can then support their choice with a persuasive essay.
  • Environmental Science: Ask students to experiment with the effect of increasing coal production on the environment. Have them list specific environmental consequences of raising energy output in this way.
  • Architecture/Physics: EdSurge tells of one teacher who had students build windmills in SimCityEDU for sustainable energy then make physical replicas of the structures in the classroom.
  • Formative Assessment: SimCityEDU offers teachers the ability to perform formative assessments of how each student’s play measures against Common Core standards.

Problems in real life require concurrent processing by multiple cognitive systems, which is why the subject-specific approach fails to adequately prepare students for contextual problem-solving. Because it integrated and applies information and concepts, interdisciplinary learning is the solution. Programs like MinecraftEDU and SimCityEDU offer the perfect vehicle for interdisciplinary learning by presenting students with simulated real-world issues.

Anne Moody Elliott graduated with degrees in English and Education from Bryn Mawr too long ago to warrant specifics. After teaching high-school English for several years, she returned to Penn State to complete a master’s degree in English. She now teaches 5th-, 6th-, and 7th-grade English in Lancaster, PA. When she is not crusading to save the English language from text-message butchery and prose limited to 140 characters, she enjoys kickboxing, freelance writing, and spending time with her two Greyhound rescues. Even after 10 years together, she still insists that her husband is the Mr. Darcy to her Elizabeth and always will be.